Rating: Although it risks becoming a throwback to the time when Jack Black was such a big comedy name Dreamworks wanted him to headline an animated blockbuster, the Kung Fu Panda series is still going strong, with a third instalment now making its way into cinemas. Taking the lead from the previous movie's ending, Kung Fu Panda 3 puts the focus on Dragon Warrior Po's long-lost panda family, led by Bryan Cranston as his father, and also adds J. K. Simmons to the cast (albeit in a villain role that's remarkably un-Simmons-y). Is it more of the same or does the threequel shake things up? Let's find out.
Best Bit - The Visuals Are Better Than Ever
All the Kung Fu Panda movies have boasted nice, stylised visuals, but the third movie coming eight years after the original not only means these are the crispest they've ever been, but that they also show the most variety. Oh, there's all you've come to expect - the alternatively cutesy and caricaturist animal design and Chinese-inspired architecture - but this one really pushes things further. We open in the "spirit realm", where real world confines cease to matter and the animators have free reign to create massive, physic-free action set-pieces that are far-and-away the movie's highlight; the meshing of Eastern and Western styles has never been so pronounced. There's also the home of the Pandas, an oasis nestled deep within the mountains. The contrast of the tranquil green with the harsh snows that surround it is excellent, worth the three-movie wait for Po's origins.
Worst Bit - The Comedy Is Painfully Silly
My biggest problem with the Kung Fu Panda movies has always been the humour, which never fit quite right with the world Dreamworks were trying to present and instead felt shoehorned in to desperately ensure no kid nodded off. Kung Fu Panda 3 handles it better than the previous two films, mostly coming across as silly without losing its hard-earned epicness. But every now and then these moments come along where a character - usually Po - makes some completely out-of-place gag that isn't funny enough to make it worth undermining the scene (the "chitty chat" line from the trailer is a notable one, although the worst case comes slap-bang in the middle of the final battle). If they were better integrated or, y'know, funny, then it wouldn't matter, but subsequent movies (Dreamworks have announced there's three more planned) really need to address this. For the second half of the review, click next.